According to the 1987 version of the Guinness Book of World Records the oldest restaurant in the world is Sobrino de Botín, which was founded in 1725. But actually a few restaurants in the world predate it by hundreds of years, with the oldest, St. Peter Stiftskeller in Salzburg, Austria, going all the way back to 803 AD! Nevertheless, the 290-year-old restaurant is still an amazing place and a must-visit when in Madrid. Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in Spain, serves excellent Castilian cuisine featuring oven-roasted suckling pig and lamb.
Front of restaurant since the 19th century – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
The building that houses Botín dates back to 1590 on a street which was named Calle de los Cuchilleros (street of the cutlers – people who make, sell, or repair knives and other cutting instruments) in the 17th century. In 1725 a French cook named Jean Botín opened an inn on the site and added a wood burning oven, which is still in use today at the restaurant. In those days under Spanish law it was forbidden to sell food and wine, but you could prepare and serve food that guests brought themselves, so food was prepared for the inn’s lodgers. In 1765 the artist Francisco de Goya briefly worked there as a dishwasher. Jean Botín’s nephew, Candido Remis, later took over the establishment, turning the ground floor into a tavern named Sobrino de Botín (Botín’s nephew).
19th century confectionery counter – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
In the 19th century the tavern was remodeled, modifying the front of the restaurant, adding windows and a confectionery counter for cakes and pastries just inside the entrance (now part of the front dining room it’s used as a service bar and jamón carving station). Only the ground floor was used as a restaurant, with the second and third floors used to house the owner’s family, plus a wine cellar.
Ground floor dining room where I dined on my visit – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
In 1885 Amparo Martín and her husband Emilio González bought the tavern. The González family still runs the restaurant today. Ernest Hemingway mentioned Botín in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises. According to legend he liked to sit at a table in the first dining room that had a view into the kitchen so he could watch Emilio cook his food. The restaurant closed in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, with Emilio taking care of the house while Amparo and their children stayed in Castellon. After the war Amparo and Emilio’s sons Antonio and José ran the restaurant, turning it into a famous destination for visiting tourists, celebrities, and political figures, and expanding it into the second, third, and fourth floors of the building. Today the third-generation of the González family, Antonio Jr., José Jr., and Carlos, run the restaurant.
Table Hemingway may have dined at – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
The kitchen on the ground floor where the original wood-burning oven is still used – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
upper floor dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
Botín specializes in roasted meats, particularly suckling pig (cochinillo asado) from Segovia and lamb from Spain’s Sepúlveda-Aranda-Riaza area. Since I was visiting Segovia later on my trip and planned to have suckling pig there I ordered the roasted baby lamb, which came as a large shank portion, very tender and tasty with crispy skin, and served with delicious white potatoes. The waiter plated it from the roasting dish tableside.
photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
Roast lamb – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
Botín’s menu also includes specialties like Madrid’s famous garlic soup with egg (sopa de ajo), scrambled eggs, clams Botín, baby squids in their own ink, and grilled filet mignon.
Waiter deboning fish tableside – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
Sangria pitchers – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014
Sobrino de Botín
Calle de los Cuchilleros 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Phone: +34 913664217 or +34 913663026
Open for lunch daily 1:00pm-4:00pm, dinner daily 8:00pm-12:00am